Saying goodbye to Jonathan Frid

One of the pop culture icons of my childhood is gone. It was announced today that Jonathan Frid died April 13 in his home in Canada. He was 87.

Frid was, of course, Barnabas Collins on the classic supernatural daytime drama “Dark Shadows.”

His death came just a few weeks before the May 11 release of the Tim Burton, Johnny Depp big-screen version of the venerable soap. Frid, along with other regulars from the TV series, appears in the movie, which is pitched as a much more light-hearted take on the gothic drama.

“Dark Shadows” aired late afternoon weekdays from 1966 to 1971. Frid didn’t join the cast until several months in, however, when groundskeeper Willie Loomis (John Karlen) accidentally released him by opening his coffin.

I’ve noted before that the show was a special one for me. I came home from elementary school every day, sat down at the coffee table in my living room and watched the show while I did my homework.

My deepest appreciation for the series, however, came when it aired in syndication years later. Then I recognized all the tricks and treats the series contained: Wild storylines that involved not only vampires like Barnabas but witches, werewolves and ghosts and even time travel.

“Dark Shadows,” like many soaps at the time, was videotaped with little room for error or fixing of same. Actors would sometimes forget their lines or bump into furniture or doors while making a dramatic exit from a scene. I loved the show anyway.

I still remember with bitter disappointment watching the last episode. This was 1971, of course, before the Internet and news of show business — particularly a geeky daytime drama — was hard to come by.

The final episode reflected an effort to tie up loose ends. The last storyline for the show had all the actors playing their ancestors in the past. Near the end of the episode, bite-type neck wounds are inflicted on someone. Is a vampire loose at Collinwood?

But the voice-over narration contradicted that ominous development and predicted a happy ending for Bramwell Collins, played in this storyline by Frid:

There was no vampire loose on the great estate. For the first time at Collinwood the marks on the neck were indeed those of an animal. Melanie soon recovered and went to live in Boston with her beloved Kendrick. There, they prospered and had three children. Bramwell and Catherine were soon married and, at Flora’s insistence, stayed on at Collinwood where Bramwell assumed control of the Collins business interests. Their love became a living legend. And, for as long as they lived, the dark shadows at Collinwood were but a memory of the distant past.

The words had an element of finality to them and I suspected the worst. The following Monday I tuned in and, sure enough, the show was not on.

My disappointment was massive. I even wrote a letter to the Indianapolis TV station that aired the show, asking if it would return. I don’t recall getting an answer.

“Dark Shadows” — all 1,200-plus episodes — is now available on DVD for the enjoyment of fans.

I’m leery of what Burton and Depp have done with the remake, but I’ll probably see it.

And if he does indeed appear in the movie, Frid will be a welcome sight.

So I’ll mourn his passing and enjoy my memories of my afternoons with Barnabas and family and all the enjoyment Jonathan Frid gave me over the years.


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